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Death toll rises to 12 in Indian steel plant blast

10 October, 2018A gas pipeline explosion at the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) Bhilai steel plant in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh on 9 October 2018 has killed 12 workers, while 11 others suffered severe burns. 

It is yet another fatal accident in the Bhilai steel plant, exposing the safety crisis at Indian public sector steel plants. According to official reports, the blast occurred at around 10.30am on 9 October, as maintenance work was underway in the gas pipe line of Coke Oven Battery Complex No 11.

About 23 employees were working in the area at the time of the blast. The bodies of nine employees who died on the spot were burnt beyond recognition. Employees’ families are demanding that DNA testing should be done to identify the bodies. Three employees died at hospital. 

It is feared that fatalities may increase as many workers are still battling for life; one worker is on a ventilator with 100 per cent burns, while others are receiving treatment with 70, 50, and 40 per cent burns.  Even though firemen were present at the spot, they did not get a chance to react. Victims of the accident include managerial staff, technicians and fire fighters. 

The Bhilai steel plant has a deplorable safety record - one worker died on each day in consecutive accidents on the 8, 9and 10May 2018. The management till this day has not implemented the safety committee’s recommendation, which was submitted after another major accident in 2014. 

In Bhilai steel plant alone between 2014 to till today about 31 workers were killed in fatal accidents. According to information provided in the parliament by the minister of steel, 74 workers were killed between 2014 -2017 in the fatal accidents in various SAIL plants across the country. During the same period the company suffered 205 reportable accidents. 

Sanjay Singh, Chhattisgarh state president of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) said:

“Lack of safety measures, failure to learn from past fatal accidents, and increasing number of precarious workers, are the primary reasons for the safety crisis. We condemn the accident in the strongest terms and it must be probed, while the people responsible should be punished. We stand in solidarity with victims’ families in these difficult times.” 

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia Regional Secretary said:

“It is appalling that management’s negligence continues to claim workers’ lives in one of the premier steel manufacturing plants in India. This is a public sector undertaking and the government should take strong measures to ensure safety for workers.”

The government authorities have announced formation of an internal committee to investigate the accident. The latest tragedy comes after the Bhilai steel plant completed its modernization and expansion programme in June, which was dedicated to the nation by the Indian Prime Minister.